July 16, 2015 –
CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. - After crossing seven states and traveling more than 2,100 miles, the Soldiers of 1st Platoon, 353rd Transportation Company, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), finally reached the destination of their week-long convoy operation on July 15. The 44 Reservists of 1st platoon began the journey in Buffalo, Minn., and delivered its mixed cargo of vehicles, generators, and shipping containers to Camp Roberts, Calif., as part of a larger Reserve initiative known as Nationwide Move 15. In addition to testing the technical skills of 1st platoon's drivers, the cross-country trek provided the Army Reserve a practical logistic service as well as crucial leadership training opportunities to the junior Soldiers of the 353rd.
The 353rd saw its first challenge before driving the first westward mile. The company, which specializes in hauling bulk fuel, was given the task of hauling cargo atop flatbed trailers. The difference in cargo presented a challenge for the younger, more inexperienced drivers of the unit. In addition to different load types, Soldiers had to adopt habits new to many of them. For example, at each stop, the Soldiers had to check their loads to be sure they were secure. The more experienced Soldiers and drivers in the unit saw this challenge as crucial to the development of their younger counterparts.
"This teaches our Soldiers to adapt to the unexpected," said Sgt. David Melanz, a truck driver and Crystal, Minn., native. "It gives the Soldiers an opportunity to see that there is more to their job than hauling fuel. It also prepares our Soldiers who haven't deployed."
Despite being faced with unfamiliar equipment, the younger Soldiers of the 353rd responded well to the challenge.
"This is the best hands-on training we could ask for, and there's a kind of newness that keeps them engaged," said Sgt. 1St Class Scott Wilde, 1st platoon's platoon sergeant. "They've been asking a lot of questions, which is also a great chance for the NCOs to share what they've learned."
Along the way, the 353rd found other ways to maximize the training value of the long trip. Each day, the unit designated a different junior Soldier to lead as acting convoy commander. They performed convoy briefs, communicated to keep the convoy together, and conducted after-action reviews. Wilde explained that exposing Soldiers to leadership early is crucial to their professional progression.
"We want them to take on leadership soon while we can give them access to support," said Wilde. "It helps them to feel confident with leadership and responsibility."
The Soldiers of the 353rd met every challenge in high spirits, due in large part to the fact that the convoy mission was serving a practical function for a sister unit: the 322nd Maintenance Company, 103rd ESC. The cargo the 353rd is hauling to California will be used by the 322nd during their annual training in Camp Roberts.
"Everyone's had a real sense of purpose since we've started," said Sgt. Nicholas Kinneburg, a truck driver with the 353rd. "We're not just conducting classes or going through the motions. This is where the rubber meets the road."
In addition to assisting the 322nd and training the 353rd, the long journey also served as an extended field test for the Assault Kitchen, a fairly new technology to the Army Reserve. The Assault Kitchen, a mobile food preparation system, fed the Soldiers two meals a day over the week-long operation. Results of the field test may determine how the Assault Kitchen is utilized within the Reserves.
Having delivered their cargo safely and without injury to personnel or cargo, the Reservists of 1st platoon will get to enjoy a trip home by air while 2nd platoon of the 353rd will take the convoy back the same 2,100 mile route Buffalo, Minn., to undergo a similar training experience.